Fans of Thailand's famed candle festival shouldn't restrict themselves to Ubon Ratchathani's spectacular show but also check out the riverside community of LadchadoLike Thais all over the country, the small market community of Ladchado in Ayutthaya province will be marking the arrival of Vassa - the Buddhist Lent - next week with a candle procession. It won't, however, resemble the extravaganza parades with magnificent floats that have made Ubon Ratchathani and Suphan Buri well known with both local and foreign tourists. Ladchado folk celebrate the rains retreat with hundred of sampans collecting the candles from riverside households before carrying them to the local temples.
"Like many things in Ladchado, the candle festival is celebrated on the water. Boats and canals play a major role in our lives," says an official from Ladchado Administration Office. "Imagine hundreds of small sampans and types of boat, decorated with flowers and colourful parasols bobbing in the water as they emerge from the far side of canal."
Together with other Buddhist communities across the country, Ladchado will celebrate the candle festival on August 2 - the eve of the Buddhist Lent.
Tucked away in Phak Hai district, Ladchado is about 40 kilometres west of downtown Ayutthaya. Named after the canal that bridges Ayutthaya and Suphan Buri, the old community dates back to the 16th century, when the Ayutthaya Kingdom ruled over the Chao Phraya Basin and the Central Plain. Ladchado had to wait until the 21st Century before it drew attention from outsiders, although two early episodes of the popular "Boonchu" movies were shot in the area.
The peaceful lifestyle, remote setting as well as the old, charming marketplace of Ladchado are gradually becoming known among weekenders, who come to the community to get away from the stress of city life and take advantage of the home-stay facilities offered by the villagers.
With amateur lensmen uploading spectacular photos to the Internet, Ladchado has also become known as one of the best places to see the candle festival.
"On the morning of August 2, the villagers and their boats laden with candles will start at one side of the village. The procession will move along the canal for a few kilometres before arriving at the local temple," says the local official. "The best place to view the boat procession is from the bank of the canal.
"Keep your eyes on the signs posted around the communities for the best place to see the float."
Many water sports and fun activities, such as the "blind and mute" paddle, will entertain visitors on August 2. There's also a photo exhibition showcasing life in Ladchado and a cultural light and sound show after darkness falls, featuring the legend of Ladchado.
"Ladchado Canal was actually an important waterway, but its story is rarely heard outside the village," adds the local official. "During the war, soldiers from Ayutthaya and Burma marched in and out of the village. When peace returned, the riverside community was bustling with merchant boats."
If you go
<< Ladchado is about 110 kilometres north of Bangkok. From Bangkok, follow the expressway out of the city and take Highway 32 to Ayutthaya province. Turn left on to Highway 329 and continue for about 30 kilometres.
<< Mini vans (Bt100/person) depart daily from Suan Santiphap Park, a short walk from Bangkok's Victory Monument, to Phak Hai district in Ayutthaya. Ladchado is about five kilometres from Phak Hai from where a tuk-tuk (Bt50) will take visitors to the marketplace.
Messing around by the river
If you want to hang around in Ladchado for the evening light and sound show, here are some places worth seeing.
Peung Thao Kong Ma Shrine
The old Chinese shrine perches over the bank of Ladchado Canal for good reason. Fires were frequent in this riverside neighbourhood more than 200 years ago and the villagers had yet to come up with a way of solving the problem. A Chinese fortune-teller suggested that the locals build the Peung Thao Kong Ma Shrine on the bank of the newly constructed canal to serve as a spiritual guardian to ward off fire. Whether or not you believe the legend, the old shrine is worth visit for its charming, time worn wooden structure and decoration.
Wat Ladchado School
Built in 1960 in the form of the letter "E", this is Thailand's longest wooden school. Take a stroll along the corridors, from one arm of the "E" to other two. There are many great places for photos.
This riverside marketplace, with many wooden structures and oozing architectural charm, is enjoying a new lease of life thanks to regular visits by weekenders. You'll find old-fashioned coffee and have fun bargaining with the vendors.
There was a time when Ladchado was rich with fish before modern farming killed them. The museum exhibits all the tools and equipment used for catching fish and is a great place to take the kids.